Tips for Technophobic Teachers

A 33-year teaching veteran explains how he joined the information age.

A 33-year teaching veteran explains how he joined the information age.

VIDEO: Conquering Technophobia: A Classroom Veteran Warms to Digital Tools

Running Time: 3:45 min.

Jim Wilson, a self-described "old guy" and star of the Edutopia video Conquering Technophobia, has gone from grumbling about his school's technology-integration initiative to embracing it. Laptop computers and other gadgets are now tools that he uses just about every day in his English classes at Freedom Area High School, outside Pittsburgh.

There have been bumps along the way, and -- Wilson will be the first to tell you -- there are surely more to come. But he's pleased with what computer technology has enabled him and his students to do in the short year since he entered the information age. Here are Wilson's tips for teachers undergoing the same tricky transition:

Ask for Help

Wilson has the benefit of an on-site tech-integration coach, provided jointly by the school district and a state grant. However, even teachers without this resource can walk down the hall and find help from a more tech-savvy colleague. Or they can simply look around their own classroom, as explained in Wilson's next tip.

Learn from Students

Some of Wilson's most dependable tech tutors have been his students. Students can also coach one another -- every class has a computer whiz or two. "I have a tough time answering the simplest of questions, but I've learned a whole lot from them," Wilson says. "Learning from the students is a neat thing. They're proud of themselves because they know something that the teacher didn't know."

Take Baby Steps

Wilson started by learning to use email, then moved up to Yahoo searches, Microsoft PowerPoint, and ultimately streaming media. He says, "If I could learn as much as I learned this year every year, I think in a few years I'll be of some use to the students instead of the students being of some use to me."

Teacher Jim Wilson giving instruction to a group of students sitting at their desks with laptops.

Just Browsing: Jim Wilson and his students debate the merits of Web searching with Google versus Yahoo.

Credit: Edutopia

Be Precise About Your Expectations

When asking students to use tech tools and the wide world of Internet resources, you need to be specific. Says Wilson, "There are so many places you can go and really stray and still be in the same ballpark." After a couple of projects gone awry, he learned to make his assignments exceedingly clear.

Expect Snags

"Pitfalls are going to happen every day," Wilson notes. Then he adds with a laugh, "This is public education." Yet, from those pitfalls come lessons about how to do things better the next time. Already, Wilson has learned some computer-troubleshooting techniques, and he has tweaked lesson plans to obtain better results. In the meantime, he says, "you hope the pit is not too deep."

Allow Students to Take the Reins

Back in the 1970s, Wilson recalls, the mentality that a teacher on his feet is worth two in his seat kept him looking over students' shoulders and walking them through many tasks. Now, with the resources and tools computers and the Internet provide, he feels more comfortable standing back and letting students explore a project on their own -- acting more like a coach than a drill sergeant. That's not to say computer-using kids don't require supervision. Wilson says, "You still have those day when you have to be the bad guy."

Beware of Plagiarism

Wilson may be an old dog, but he quickly learned that with the wealth of material available online, students, he says, will "paste and copy any paper they can." It's something to watch for, he adds. But on the flip side, Wilson notes, the exposure to different ideas and information can expand their perspectives and help students formulate their own opinions.

Keep an Open Mind

"If you have an open mind, you'll see that using technology is just like anything else," he says. "There's good and there's bad, and you just have to wade through and figure out how you can best fit into the situation."

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

This article originally published on 12/3/2008

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Comments (18)

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I am greatly appreciative of

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I am greatly appreciative of your kind responses. It is nice to hear from so many people who have had the same experiences in the classroom. Technology has helped keep me in touch with trends in education as well as society. Students are still my best teachers. They never cease to amaze me with their knowledge and willingness to share it. I hope that your staff and students help you as much as mine have helped me. Thank you for your kind words.
That old dog, Jim Wilson

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I am greatly appreciative of the responses that you all have taken time to post. Just think, a few short years ago I didn't even know that posts of this type even existed. Teaching is a wonderful career. I have always thought that working on a daily basis with young people would help keep me young. Technology has helped me keep in touch with today's trends in education and in our society as a whole. I hope that you all get the support from staff and students that I have gotten. My best teachers are still my students. Thank you all for your encouraging responses.
Jim Wilson

Debbie Mayer (not verified)

Keeping an open mind is key.

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Keeping an open mind is key. So many teachers have been successful with what they have done for 20+ years, they see no reason to change. There are so many possibilities with technology if one has an open mind.

Debbie Mayer (not verified)

I teach grades 1-2 and I

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I teach grades 1-2 and I agree that it is amazing how tech-savvy they are! They love when we figure something our together on the computer and realize that we are truly learning together!

Debbie Mayer (not verified)

I can really relate! I, too

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I can really relate! I, too have felt alone, but I realized that I did it to myself at times as I just "figured" they were too busy. I am less reluctant now to take the first step and many times, have found someone who is also seeking colleagueship and encourangement in this Web 2.0 world!

Judy Allen (not verified)

Learn from Students

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Jim, Thanks to my students I became fairly adept with the LCD this past year. They were so kind and patient with me and pleased they could teach this "old dog new tricks." They also were much better with the Flip camera which was suppose to be easy to learn - so I just handed it over and they created some amazing videos. There is a wide learning curve for me but I'm getting there.

diane (not verified)

I could definitely relate to

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I could definitely relate to Jim and his tech tips are good reminders. I am printing them and posting them above my computer.

Jim Berns (not verified)

Letting the student take the reins

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Jim I am in complete agreement with letting the kids take the reigns especially when it comes to technology. They are so techno savvy even by the time they come to Kindergarten. Find out what they know and understand and then you will know what you need to teach in you lesson. I also like you thoughts about expect to make mistakes. I make them all the time and admit them to my students, and tell them I am a constant learner as well. Thanks for your encouragement.

bradlee westie (not verified)

learning from kids

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Phobic or non...the kids can be our best source to demonstrate use and even show us how. They are there much faster than we are, and then our job can be to "play it forward". The non-users usually will get hooked in first by mail, internet shopping, etc. Finding an interest that hooks them and adding tech is a really good start.

Mike Turner (not verified)

key idea

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Thanks Jim.

For me the biggest message that I need to keep repeating to myself is to take it slow. In education, we are constantly being hit with new things that we need to add to our repetoire. Most of these are very valuable, but it is impossible to do it all at once. Focusing on taking smaller steps and doing those steps as best that we can is important and will keep us sane.

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